The Iowa Supreme Court recently ruled that a “ball hitch” — used to attach trailers to passenger vehicles — did not legally “obstruct” license plates under Iowa law.
In contrast, Ohio law requiring unobstructed rear-view license plates likely does preclude a driver from having a ball hitch behind the license plate on the rear of a passenger vehicle.
License plates in Ohio must be in “plain view” of vehicles located behind or travelling behind a passenger vehicle. “Plain view” is essentially defined the ability to be seen under normal weather conditions. The law understands that foggy, dark or rainy or snowy weather may make a plate and sticker a bit more difficult to be seen and read.
Owners and operators of moving vehicles which do not have valid rear-facing plates in clear view can be liable for violation of Ohio law. A vehicle that is not moving also must have a valid license plate that is able to be seen in plain view.
Additionally, license plates must also display the current, applicable county identification sticker in plain view. A license plate may not display any expired, old, or former county identification stickers. Thus, when applying a new sticker to a license plate, that sticker is legally required to be placed on top of the old sticker, covering the old sticker from being visible.
Obviously, to provide for a “clear view” of a license plate and its sticker, the plate and sticker must not be “covered by any material that obstructs” the visibility of the license plate and its sticker.
Therefore, license plate covers and license plate borders must be minimal enough to not affect the clear view of the plate and sticker. Obviously, too, license plates must also be free from any and all snow, dirt and salt that might obstruct the plain view of the plate and sticker.
Further, license plates and stickers must be “securely fastened”, which is defined as being attached to the vehicle in a way that that the license plate will not “swing”. A slightly crooked license plate or a license plate attached to a vehicle by only one bolt or screw that does not swing is considered to be securely fastened.
License plates must also be illuminated or lighted by at least one light that emits only a white light. The magnitude of the license plate light is defined as making the license plate and sticker visible from a distance of 50 feet from the rear of the vehicle. Any color light other than white that illuminates a license plate is unlawful.
Anyone who violates the license plate and sticker plain view law or the white lighting law for license plates and stickers is guilty of a minor misdemeanor. Either offense is sufficient grounds for law enforcement to stop a vehicle.
License plates and stickers that are not in plain view are automatic violations of the law, even if the driver or owner of the vehicle is not aware of the “swinging” of the license plate or the obstruction of the license plate and sticker.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.